Underworld celebrated the 20th anniversary of their game changer debut album ‘Dubnobasswithmyheadman’ with a very special live performance of the album at The Royal Festival Hall in London on October 11, 2014.
The album was meticulously remastered by the band’s Rick Smith and was released to coincide with the performance.
We caught up with front man Karl Hyde to find out more in this interview originally published on October 9, 2014.
How does it feel when you reflect on the last two decades? Could you have imagined the impact the work would have on electronic music and where it would lead for you?
Before Dubnobass I had no desire to make another album after the string of generic offerings we released in the 80’s. It came as a surprise to me that Rick had been assembling something on the quiet, but when he played it to me I was converted to the idea that ‘maybe’ this album might be different to all the others we had flopped-out. It was written with no thought of longevity nor a desire for it to be anything but a reflection of how we felt, so, yes, it was a surprise and a thrill that the album was received with such enthusiasm.
Your iconic vocals were not always part of the original sound of the band. When did you decide to bring them into play and for the band to be what it became with you as the front man?
Early on Rick was writing material with Darren Emerson (the third original member of Underworld) without vocals because that was the style of the time. Then I came along and asked if there was a way we could use my voice. Rick was generous enough and Darren patient enough to allow me time to experiment with Rick in the studio to find a way that my voice might work within our sound. Record companies told us to dump the singer if we wanted to make dance music and I’m eternally grateful that Rick and Darren didn’t pay any attention.
When Darren Emerson left the band in 2000 how did the dynamics change and what effect did it have the sound of Underworld?
I was sad to see Darren go, he had an infectious energy that I loved being around. When he left Rick and I became closer than we had ever been. Some times this was good and other times it was a strain not to have another band member in the team. The sound altered because now there were two and neither of us were DJ’s. Our connection with club culture had to then come from outside of the band. Fortunately we have had (and still have) a very close connection with Steve Hall of Junior Boys Own Records, who continues to be our ‘bridge to night life’.
Your unintentional smash ‘Born Slippy’ is probably one of the first tracks that people think of when you mention Underworld. Can you tell us how the track came about and where the lyrics came from and also how the track became one of the main themes for Trainspotting and the soundtrack for a generation?
That track as far as I can remember, started as a fantastic drum groove that Rick played to me and that excited me into wanting to ‘sing’. The Lyrics came from a horrific night of drinking in Soho and was my naive attempt at a cry for help with my drink addiction (fell on deaf ears that one!).
The beautiful, uplifting chords at the start and conclusion of the track were added by Rick the night after I laid the vocals down. To me BornSlippy (Nuxx) would be a shadow of it’s self without them.
The track had already been a very successful 12” through JBO records before it was used in the film and initially when Danny approached us for it’s inclusion on Trainspotting we said ‘no’ (ha ha ha!) Danny invited us into the cutting room to see excerpts of the unfinished film and convinced us he was making a powerful piece of work that we would be stupid not to want to be a part of.
Your relationship with Danny Boyle led to Underworld’s involvement directing the soundtrack to the Olympics. Can you tell us a bit more about this?
This is something that is Rick’s baby. He put his heart and soul into that project, taking it in the direction he felt was right and delivering a fabulous, expansive piece of work.
One of the many highlights from the ceremonies was when the cauldron was lit and the climax plays to the riff from your track ‘Two Months Off’. You must be very proud to have been involved in one of the countries proudest moments of recent times?
The opening ceremony kicked off a period of great positivity in the UK. I was thrilled to see my nation in such an upbeat mood. The sense of ‘community’ was infectious.
Can you tell us more about your design background and Tomato?
Tomato is a collection of artists and musicians we are part of who came together at the end of the 80’s and made some of the most influential graphic design and tv adverts of the 90’s.
My own background is in fine art and I continue to exhibit as an artist in galleries and through artworks created especially for underworldlive.com (every day for the past 14 years).
We remain members of Tomato who not only continue to art direct our record releases, but have also gone from strength to strength in their global reach and expanding client roster. It remains one of our great joys to work closely with other artists from different disciplines who bring a fresh perspective to our outlook as musicians – long may we remain members of Tomato.
Visual design and sound design merge happily together and you guys are pioneers of the electronic live spectacle. How important has your design background been to the evolution of Underworld? Are you guys hands on with all aspects of your live shows?
My background in fine art was as a video and installation artist and Rick has always had a deep love of the visual arts. We have had a very close relationship with all aspects of UW’s visuals and also know when to hand it over to gifted artists who bring something fresh to our show.
The public’s appetite for a spectacle has become more ravenous with events such as the Olympics and the technology now being employed in clubs and festivals worldwide.
Does this pose more of a challenge?
Sometimes it suggests that it’s time to go ‘in the other direction’!
To celebrate the anniversary of ‘Dubnobasswithmyheadman’ you are playing a special live show of the work at The Royal Festival Hall this weekend. After playing music to the Queen at the Olympics and now playing one of the countries most iconic stages you must have to pinch yourself just how much electronic music has ingrained itself in the nations conciousness for this to happen. Can you tell us more about the production and what the audience can expect?
We will be playing the whole of the Dubnobass album for the first time ever, aiming to play it as close to the original as possible. Why? Because for most of our time in Underworld we have improvised on stage and gone with the flow, so this presents a new challenge to us – to even ‘sing’ it in the way I did 20 years ago is something I have never tried before, so it’s time.
It’ll sound great too as Rick has spent months getting everything sounding sweet and in conjunction with our friends at Funktion One (the pa sound system designers we have always worked with) we aim to make the album come alive on Saturday night at the Royal Festival Hall in a way it has never done before.
We were very spoilt with huge live electronic acts who defined electronic music in the 90’s and 00’s with you guys and others like Chemical Brothers, Leftfield, Orbital and The Prodigy. What other electronic live acts currently can you see leaving their mark in the way you guys have?
EDM has hit huge in the USA, introducing a fresh generation of live acts. This is great for the whole of dance music as it opens up our genre to a new & massive audience – I’m currently a big fan of Australian band Jagwar Ma.
How healthy do you think the dance music scene is today both on a global level and here in the UK. What do you make of EDM and the success of that genre in the US? Has the scene become polarised? How important are the underground house, techno, Dnb scenes as dance music becomes more mainstream? Would you have ever believed The Sun would have a dedicated dance music section?
The Sun has given us it’s support for many years and we’ve enjoyed some excellent interviews together. The dance music scene is bigger than ever (though I never thought that possible), now that it has finally been re-united with it’s roots in the USA. This has increased it’s appeal and reach, due in no small part to the phenomenal scale of revenue it now turns over. The image of EDM most of us see may represent the mainstream of contemporary dance culture, but whilst this massive overground movement is rolling around the world there are pockets of underground sounds developing which will be tomorrow’s overground – without the underground there can be nothing new in pop, long may it continue to flourish.
Making electronic music is so much more accessible than when you started out and arguable more disposable. What advice would you give to young producers these days in a very crowded scene? How do you stand out?
Be individual. Don’t be swayed into becoming an imitation of someone else. Search for your own sound and build on it. Cut your own path.
You released your first solo record Edgeland last year. You really explore your vocal range and poetic lyrics in a beautiful piece of work. When can we expect more solo stuff from you? How do you think solo work will feed back to Underworld?
Now my focus is on Underworld and writing new material with Rick. After 34 years together, It’s been important for both Rick and I to explore working on projects outside of the band and now it’s time to bring those experiences back into our writing relationship, something we’ve already started and are enjoying again.
What else does the future hold for Underworld?
Things beyond my imagination!